Tag Archives: quotable

Learn From the Pros – Read Like a Writer (Not A Reader)

quotables button When I teach literature I always tell them, these would-be writers (we don’t do workshops, we just read great books), I say, “When you read Pride and Prejudice, don’t if you’re a girl identify with Elizabeth Bennet, if you’re a boy with Darcy. Identify with the author, not with the characters.” All good readers do that automatically, but I think it’s helpful to make that clear. Your affinity is not with the characters, always with the writer. You should always be asking yourself, if you want to become an expert reader or perhaps a writer, you should always say, “How is this being achieved?” “How is this scene being managed?” “How is this being brought off?” Because the characters are artifacts. They’re not real people with real destinies and I know that feeling, when you’re reading Pride and Prejudice even for the fourth time, you feel definite anxiety about whether they’re going to get married, even though you know perfectly well that they do. There’s a slight sort of, “Come on, kiss her!”

Martin Amis

Writers are generally told to do two things – write and read. But here is lovely advice from Martin Amis (whose work I’ve never read, and who I don’t know much about, but whose advice here is spot on). There is a difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer. I’ve always done both, but if I want to learn why some books are classics, I should do more of the latter.

Because there are so many lively, witty young women in romance novels, and yet Elizabeth Bennett stands above them all. How does Jane Austen make us care about her? It’s easy just to straight-up identify with what Elizabeth is feeling, and more difficult to dig through the layers and figure out how the writing helps you identify with her.

So – something to keep in mind next time you read!

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“You Too?” What Friendship Is, and Why It’s So Hard to Find

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 I’ve always found friendship a tricky thing – I’ve watched other people quickly and easily slide into friendship in a matter of days, and wondered why


“Friends,” by Jerry Weiss (CC BY-SA 3.0)

the process of ‘becoming friends’ always appears so daunting to me. It’d be simplistic and easy to blame it all on ‘extroversion’ and ‘introversion’ (me being the introvert, of course), but it’s more than that. I simply place too much emphasis on that magical moment of ‘connection.’

 Look above at that quote. When I read that I realized C. S. Lewis had put into words what this ‘connection’ feels like in a way I’d never managed to myself. You know what it feels like when you’ve been acquainted with someone for years, and done all sorts of activities with them, but still don’t feel like you really know them? And then there are others you feel connected to right away? Because with some people you reach that ‘you too?’ moment right away, and some people you never do.

 And that’s why some books feel like friends! We all want some evidence that our experience is not completely abnormal, and when an author can reach out and connect to us through the printed page, we might decide the book is a masterpiece. This, incidentally, might also explain why some of us absolutely love some books, while others cannot see what’s so great about them. All our lives are different.

 I realized I found this ‘you too?’ moment so important in friendship because I was writing it all the time – when I wanted two of my characters to like each other, they had to find a moment of connection at some point during the plot. (They say introverts value this type of connection in relationships, and I guess I’m just more evidence of that!) And it irritated me in other books where characters were ‘such good friends’ or ‘so in love,’ when nowhere in the book did the two of them ever really talk.

 Now, why did I say ‘too much emphasis’ on this connection up there at the beginning of this post? Because it’s easy to think I don’t have anything in common with someone, before I reach this ‘you too’ moment. When I’m staring at a stranger, I can’t imagine I’ll ever find anything in common with them. It’s too easy to give up on ever reaching the stage of a relationship known as ‘friendship.’ But most people are worth the effort – and the human experience is meant to be shared with others. I’ll end off with another C. S. Lewis quote:

 “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”


So there you have it – what do you think of this definition of friendship, and do you think it rings true? Do you find it easy to make friends, or difficult?


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The Book Doesn’t Exist? Then Write It

About time for another Quotable, don’t you think?

quotables button“If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Toni Morrison

I once read a book, hated how it ended, and started writing my own sequel. Now, this was when I was in elementary school, so I never finished this great Canadian novel – but it does show that what you want to read often drives what you write. It’s what still drives me, and often frustrates me as well when I let this get out of hand.

For example, it’s very easy to think, while in the midst of writing – I would never have the patience to read this scene – and then your writing muscles all seize up and you can’t get another word out. Fear is a very potent immobilizer!

But so very often I pick up my pen (and I do mean a pen, because I often still write out stories longhand) and write because I just want more of certain types of characters, plots and stories.

It offers a very simple solution when you run out the type of books you like to read. No more of that type exist? Then you must write them.

So this quote sums the feeling up quite well! Remember the joy of finding a book you love and aim for that, and don’t fret too much while you’re writing it or it will never get done. And hopefully you will produce something that you love, at least.

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Are Writers Original? A Quote

The original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.

– François-René de ChateaubriandLe génie du Christianisme (1802)

 People like to rag on Shakespeare for re-using the plots of other people for almost every play he wrote. They also like to claim J.K. Rowling stole all her good ideas from Tolkien (I used to be one of these people), or be shocked that Hollywood can still make lots of money without coming up with a new plot. And it’s true – endless recycling of ideas can get tiring. But the more you look at great literature, the more you realize authors were inspired by what came before. This is not something to be ashamed about. Be ashamed about re-writing and re-using plots and plot devices badly.

I just ran across the above quote without knowing too much about the guy who said, but when I looked him up I found he had several interesting quotes. Here’s another good one:

Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory.

François-René de Chateaubriand, Les Natchez (1826)

The battle of Troy was just one of millions of tiny skirmishes that happened throughout history, yet we still know about it today. That’s how good (and inimitable) a writer Homer was. 🙂


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Read The Iliad!

Achilles battling the river, by Max Slevogt. {PD}

“Sing to me, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles…”

– Homer, The Iliad

I was blown away by how good The Iliad is. I’ve read classics before and wondered why they were considered classics, but I have no doubt as to why The Iliad managed to survive for thousands of years. And I’ve never been a major fan of stories full of random violence, or depressing war stories. But somehow the characters of The Iliad leap off the page at you and say something about humanity in general, despite living in a culture that is completely foreign to us.

Yes, I was told to read it for school. But I’m glad I actually did read it, instead of just pretending I did. 🙂


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